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04.04.2019

Murder of a journalist - personal testimony by Ljiljana Smajlovic  

Ljiljana Smajlovic was the International Editor of Evropljanin magazine in 1999 when the magazine’s publisher Slavko Curuvija was shot dead. On 5. April 2019 the trial of three men accused of the killing comes to an end in Belgrade. 

Murder of a journalist: personal testimony by Ljlijana Smailovic Ljliljana Smailovic. Photo: Nedeljk

This is the testimony of Ljliljana Smajlovic, who is an Executive Board Member of the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom.

I await the Curuvija trial verdict with a heavy heart and a lot of apprehension. My publisher was murdered twenty years ago. Will justice be done this Friday?

I despaired when it took the Serbian state 16 years to bring charges against state security agents suspected of assassinating Slavko. I despaired because the trial itself took nearly four years. I was indignant when two of the suspects were released from custody due to the length of the trial, and even more indignant that one suspect is still at large. I was alarmed when the trial chamber ruled three times that key evidence was inadmissible, and three times superior judges had to overrule its decisions. This did not inspire any confidence in the proceedings.  

I was unhappy that procedure prevented me from observing the trial because the defense announced early on it would seek to depose me as a witness. The judges never allowed it, but they never took the trouble to inform me of their decision, robbing me of the chance to observe the trial. I was only able to attend the closing session, in time to hear a defendant criticizing me for commenting negatively on trial proceedings which I had not observed in person.

Throughout the trial, my colleagues from the Commission to Establish Facts Surrounding the Murders of Journalists and I were vilified by the accused, as well as their supporters in the press and their defense attorneys. The lawyers for the defense moved to use laws that would prevent us from commenting on trial proceedings, which made such comments punishable by prison for up to three years! They even got the Belgrade Bar Association to back their legal initiative.

In the meantime, their associates in the media organised a press posse against those of us who had pushed for an end to impunity for crimes against journalists (our Commission is working on more unsolved cases of murdered journalists, including those missing and killed in the Yugoslav civil wars). Prior to his assassination during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, my publisher Slavko Curuvija had been attacked in state media as a stooge of the West, a traitor and someone who had asked NATO to bomb his own country. After he was shot on the back on Easter Sunday in broad daylight, I spoke at his funeral to a bewildered, anxious crowd filled with frightened journalists. I thought it was bad enough when the Milosevic-era police interrogated me the morning after on account of that short funeral oration. However, nearly twenty years later, as the trial of the four men accused of killing Slavko drew to a close, it was my turn to be accused of the same treacherous deeds, by the same journalists who had accused my publisher, and in some of the same media organisations that demonised my dead colleague.

I have kept the faith and I believe justice will be done. But will it be done this Friday?

You can read the background to the case here.